It's time for the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo, and all of the victuals that come with it

Y'all Come!

If Austin has a busier community events calendar than the month of March, I'd be hard-pressed to name it. Around the Chronicle, the annual SXSW maelstrom makes it a challenge for us to focus on anything else, but that's no reason for you to miss one of the great food opportunities that March has to offer. The 15-day Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo offers a treasure trove of activities for Texas food lovers and culinary historians alike. Events commence this Friday, March 12, with the 10th annual Cowboy Breakfast on Auditorium Shores from 6 to 9am. About 5,000 folks will follow the aroma of authentic cowboy victuals to the banks of the Colorado, where the menu will include cowboy coffee, hot biscuits, and peppery cream gravy from the Golden Corral, five varieties of delicious breakfast tacos from Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q, fresh kolaches from the Kolache Shoppe, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Pace Picante sauces, smoky link sausages from V&V Sausage, and Borden milk. You don't have to ride in on Ol' Paint or sleep under the stars in your bed roll to wrangle an invite to this shindig: It's free and open to the public. It wouldn't be an Austin party without live music, and that will be provided by Ricky Calmbach & Texas Standard Time. There will also be trick roping demonstrations and photo opportunities with a saddled longhorn and Elsie the cow. My Chronicle Food writing colleague Barbara Chisholm swears by this event, having named it the "Best Place to Rustle Up Some Grub" in the "Best of Austin" awards one year. "We wouldn't miss it for the world," she says. "It's the one time Roz is allowed to be late for school."

Once the big breakfast gets things off to a good start, the first weekend of the rodeo features the second annual Chuck Wagon Cook-Off, 9am-4:30pm, Saturday, March 13th, a chuck wagon breakfast on Sunday morning, March 14, 9:30am, followed by an awards ceremony on Sunday at 2pm. Authentic chuck wagon cooking is a new and fast-growing genre of competition cooking nationwide. "You could enter one just about every weekend if you had the time," explains Austin contestant Gerry Self, who competes with the 7J Ranch Chuck Wagon owned by Jardine's Foods. This particular event is limited to old-style trail wagons only, rigs that have been fully restored or authentically replicated, and many contestants appear in period costume. Entering teams are judged on the outfitting of their wagons, as well as the quality of their Dutch oven cooking, and there's a one-page list of rules about "authenticity scoring" posted on the rodeo Web site, cooking must be done on wood fires, and each entrant will cook five dishes: meat (chicken-fried steak), bread (sourdough, plain biscuits, or cornbread), beans (any way the cook chooses), potatoes (no potato salad or scalloped potatoes), and dessert (peach cobbler or pie). Cooks are not allowed to use mushrooms, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, powdered sugar, biscuit or chili mixes, cheese, or frozen foods. Food judging begins at 4:30pm on Saturday, and the public will be invited to sample dishes soon afterward. At press time, there were 25 chuck wagons from all over Texas entered in the competition, and you can bet there will be some superior Dutch oven cooking going on. This event sounds like great family fun, good food, and an unforgettable culinary history lesson in the bargain.

The following weekend, March 19-21, more than 50 teams will converge on the South Fairgrounds for the annual Barbecue Cook-Off. Teams compete for the titles of Best Barbecue Cook and Highest Fundraiser and are judged on such things as hospitality, showmanship, and rig decoration, as well as the quality of their brisket, chicken, ribs, beans, and Bloody Marys. For more complete details about all of the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo events, check the Web!

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